The Marshaling Chronicles: Long Beach Grand Prix, 2014

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Long Beach California: April 13, 2014 – by Raymond Wintonyk

Long Beach Start Finish

For the most part, all of the events reported in the following article actually happened. Only a few of the names have been changed because they bought me off.

Four a.m. and time to get up for the morning meeting with the airplane. This is just way too early for normal human beings.  I get to the airport by 5:30, and I’m apparently late. The plane doesn’t leave for an hour yet, but for some unknown reason it’d seem that standing in long lineups at this ungodly hour is quite a popular general pastime. There are a lot of people out for the exercise. Me & my titanium hips get through the picture box, and they let me through without taking my shoes off. Thanks. I’d have been in stocking feet for the rest of the day, otherwise.

But I make it “just in time” to sit in the plane on the ground for fifteen minutes . . .

Two hours to Seattle in a plane with propellers hanging off the wings to wait for three hours for a plane to L.A. I’ve really got to come up with a better plan for next year. But it’s summertime in L.A.! Not so much for the Edmonton I’ve left behind.

Hobble over to the bus to Terminal 2 & meet up with Mark Miller from Vancouver. Pretty good time, so far, but it would seem that Doug & Tracey’s Airport Shuttle Service has arrived “upstairs”. Wonderful. More walking.

We meet up with the rest of the Canucks and a few of the Brits at the motel in Westminster. And out for dinner at Claim Jumpers.  $9 for a shot of bloody whiskey, for crying out loud. I think, next year, I’m going to find a slightly less ritzy bunch to hang out with. I stay remarkably sober, but I ate too much. I’m going to have one heck of a time fitting into the Friday whites.

Hilton Player PianoThursday morning: Breakfast at the Long Beach Café: $15.00 (see above social note), and off to registration at the Hilton. Everyone else goes up left around the outside, but the right way up is through the Health Club. They’re welcome to the extra exercise if the need it. I don’t. I heard piano music in the lobby, but could not for the life of me see the piano player. I thought there might be another piano around the corner, but no, the music was coming from the piano sans pianist in the middle of the lobby. Sure enough, it was a baby grand piano playing with itself. All I could think about was that poor homeless musician sitting out on a street corner somewhere with his battered top hat perched on top of that little toy piano he’s tinkling away on. It’s the Hilton, dammit. You’d think they could afford a real piano player.

Track Walk time. Mark bluffs us through security quite nicely. (I have to wear my “official” shirt to do that job) and we drive around to Turn 8. We check out the worker positions, sightlines & flagging strategy for Tracey McEwing, our flag chief from Edmonton. She’ll be running Turn 8 this weekend. But as we’re heading back to the car, we stumble across the induction into the Long Beach Walk of Fame for Franchitti, Forsythe and Kalkhoven. That was kind of cool. We had front row seats.

KevinNow Kevin Kalkhoven got a really nice plaque (eh?), but after all the years he’s put in, you’d think he’d rate at least one Indygirl, but nope; not a bikini in sight. Were I in his place, I think I’d be a little miffed. Of course, Dario’s had way more than his fair share of Indygirls, so I don’t really feel all that sorry for him.

A couple more laps around, checked out the whole track. I think we ran across the tail end of the hole cutting crew, but we were a bit late for the job; we’d gone to registration. I haven’t made it to hole cutting for two years now. I’m starting to feel a bit guilty about it. (Hole cutting is the “final” finishing off of the corner station placements, Flagging egress hole creation, etc.)

And not one, but TWO pit stops for Margaritas. I hate Margaritas. They’re sweet, sticky & disgusting, but I managed to comply with “tradition” at least to the extent of one of the damned things. They’re not exactly cheap, either. So it goes . . .

The general plan was to walk down to the convention centre, then circle back aound to the paddocks. Me & my new hips made it halfway down the front straight, but that was about it, folks. We split up, & I clambered through the hole at start/finish; hobbled my way back through pit lane to the paddock. I really wanted to get photos of the cars with new paint jobs for my little spotter guide, but everyone was lined up at Tech with no back wings, so that’s not really going to work.

BriscoeSo we spent the rest of the afternoon limping around the various paddocks looking at all the shiny cars ‘til it was time to limp over to Bubba Gump’s. Sort of a bridge too far for me, I’m afraid. I was pretty darned sore on Friday.

Which Friday, as usual, arrived quite a long bit before it’s welcome. That alarm clock’s been through quite a bit, and it’s held together with masking tape, but it still works.

Morning MeetingMorning Meeting: 6:05 a.m. And I’m just tickled pink that I get to be an ATM again. (It’s an “honour”.) I think we ought to get special pins, or stickers (or maybe suckers) or something. All my stuff was ready to go to the corner, but we had no trucks, so I sneak over to the morning meeting to have a peek. But it’s obvious that I didn’t sneak in quite sneakily enough, ‘cause management spotted me right off. ATM’s are not permitted to mingle with normal folk. I was sent right back to the truck stop.

Station 12’s a pretty easy station to work. No lead, no apex, no exit, just the main station. It’s downstream from the hairpin just right after pit-in; driver’s left at the entrance to the front straight. Not much ever really happens there, because, again, I’d forgotten to bring my chalk — but it’s a great place to blue flag. You can see the cars broadside as they come up to 11, so you know what’s coming, and you have a decently long window when they appear out of the hairpin to pop a blue flag out. And on top of that, you’ve got a big screen TV right in front of you to catch the race order, and keep on top of the rest of the race. If there’s a lapped car getting caught by the leader, you can usually see him coming on the TV. Too easy.

Well I got to the station with the stuff eventually. Everything we needed was set up & ready — with one small exception: no little green office. We were (it seems) required to “hold it in” all day, as a porta-pottie on 12 might impede the view of the spectators.

porta-pottieOur heroic Turn 12 security crew, though, had a different plan. They borrowed a piece of cord, and promised to use it to steal that little green office from behind the spectator stands. It took quite a long time; they were apparently locked together. But just as we were starting to look around for some shrubbery, or maybe a bush or something . . . down through the gate & along the fence comes our porta-pottie in tow by security. The crowd behind us (maybe still a bit thin) was already having a good time though. They gave the boys a standing ovation.

Friday morning starts out with two hours of practice for the Tudor USC cars. Tom Bastian from Arizona, our Turn Captain, is blue flagging, so I get to be “captain” for the session. (The captain stands around with pretty much nothing to do, trying his darndest to look important).  If something bad happens, it’s his fault. But after that “bridge too far” on Thursday, two hours on my feet Friday morning is a long time. Made it though. Friday is a tough cookie. My feet hurt.

IndyCars next: I’m on blue flag, practice session. I start to get an inkling of what I’m up against just down from pit-in. To wit: FAST car all over the back of a slower car coming into 11. Both cars pop out from behind the station 11 “island”. Blueflagger Ray shines a HUGE blue flag in the face of the slow car. FAST car pits. Slow car checks his mirrors. Nobody there.  Blueflagger Ray eventually gets used to the looks he gets from those drivers.

We wish we could say this happened maybe two or three times. It’d be a damned lie, I’m afraid. I got caught with my (described in the words of Mark Miller which I most certainly cannot repeat here), maybe a dozen times over the weekend. I lost count. I tried to figure out how to tell when they were going to pit, but to absolutely no avail. And if I’d waited, I’d be blue flagging a contrail. Bloody hell! I’m convinced it was a wicked plan by the drivers to make me look like an idiot. Y’know, gentlemen, I really don’t need any assistance in that respect. One might think I’m perhaps a bit paranoid? But I can’t be paranoid. I’ve been taking all my meds, and my therapist says I’m all fixed up. It’s an evil plot.

Station 12I’m the “boss” again for the Celebs, and on Comm for the Indy Lights & PWC cars. Great fun, but a long day. Back to the worker compound finally for pizza, and I’d not gotten around to packing beer. (That’s a major oversight.) But Bill Galey came through just like he’s done every year I’ve been at Long Beach. Bill had packed a cooler, and he had a beer for us. Bill Galey is the heart and soul of the Long Beach Grand Prix. He’s been there from it’s inception, and I’m happy to say that he was awarded a 40 year plaque this year for his contributions.

Maybe half a dozen hours of sleep, and the damned alarm clock goes off again. Good Morning, Saturday. Not too hot, but no rain.

Indy Lights practice, IndyCars, Indy Lights again. Then the Pro/Celebrity race. It was ok, & fun to watch Little Al carving his way through, but it just didn’t compare to the year we had Wild Billy Shatner on the racetrack. Captain Kirk might well be able to fly a starship, but (please forgive the profanity) he couldn’t drive a car worth shit. His battered up Toyota just barely hobbled to the finish line ‘cause he ran into pretty much anything that got in front of him. But Wild Bill was having a BLAST! The worse he drove, the wider his grin got. I was on Turn 11 that year, so had a front row seat as he sort of bounced his way through the hairpin. Unforgettable.

I actually like the new method of IndyCar qualifying. At least we get cars on the track. In years past, we’d get all keyed up, (“10 minutes, 5 minutes, 1 minute”); We’d be ready, the green flag drops . . .

Silence . . . Half an hour later, we’d hear an engine fire up. One of the rookies would venture out to do a lap or two to rubber up the track. Ten minutes later, another couple of rookies. Finally with maybe 15 minutes left, we’d get cars out for qualifying.

This year, with 10 minute sessions & top sixes, we get cars right off the bat. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen qualifying quite so close. Everyone, I think, except Graham Rahal was in the top six at one time or another.

It ends up with Hinch on top (YEAH!), Bourdais in P2, Newgarden & Hawksworth. It’s rookie day. Then finally; just sneaking in under the checkered, Ryan Hunter Reay snatches the pole. Now that was a great qualifying session. And it makes it a much better experience on the corner when we have our own TV. I guess we can’t really complain. We did get a toilet. And we’ve got TV. Next year I think we should take a stab at WiFi.

Tudor USC race, then PWC qualifying. It’s a long day already, and we’ve just got a small window to get off the track before the Drifters come out. We pack up in  record time, and are out waiting for the truck home in under five minutes. Even so, it just wasn’t a big enough window to get worker transport out on the track and off again in time. So we get to watch the drifters burn through $10,000 worth of tires in half an hour.

Finally at about 6:30 we get to go back to Workerville at Turn 5. It’s a buffet tonight, and I’d remembered beer. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I lost count when donating a few to the general cause. I know that Teresa Parker had had a tough day out on the turn, and I was making darned sure I kept one for her when she got in. She turned up eventually, I reached in for a brew . . . and the cupboard was bare. (Uh-oh). (It was actually Teresa’s beer, too; not mine). Well I tell ya kids, hell hath no fury . . . And she didn’t tire in the least of pointing out my numerous egregious shortcomings in that regard for a long, long time. I think it comprises the first paragraph of any conversation we’ve had to date.

Bill came through again, bless him, and Teresa got a beer. But that didn’t mean I was forgiven. Not a chance in heck of that, I’m afraid. I might just as well get used to purgatory. I’m going to be here a while.

Raceday: Isn’t 7:20 am just a tad too early for flying trucks? I’m no good for first over, this year, but I had my gloves on. I was sure one of those nuts was going to land butter side down. But nope. Everyone survived. I’m sure that’s a good thing. (Eh?)

PWC warm-up, IndyCar warm-up, Indy Lights race: I’m sorry. I know I oughtn’t say this, but it’s an hour long 12 car parade. The Atlantics were tons more fun. We all miss ‘em.

Munoz in pitsThe pits are just right across from 12, so I can hobble across & do the pit tour. It’s a bloody zoo! It’s chock full of people, & I don’t know how the teams manage to get their cars moved around & placed in their start positions. But they do. Everyone’s in a good mood, and milling crowd or no, the cars eventually get lined up. The chaos has to be security’s worst nightmare, but I think it’s great.

IndyGirlsStanding start: It’s right in front of 12, and at the last minute, Brian comes out to give us the job of waving yellow flags in 2 spots along our fence if a car doesn’t start.

And sure enough, we had a customer. When the green flag drops, Saavedra stalls. Out comes our yellow, and safety gets to work. It probably wasn’t long, but it felt like forever before they got him fired up. Our crowd goes wild!

After all these years at Long Beach, it’s amazing that the crowd is still so enthusiastic. I remember a LOT of years ago at Portland, we trackworkers would dash out onto the course with brooms to clear off some gravel, and we’d get a standing ovation for our efforts. It was almost embarrassing, but still a lot of fun. After a few years though, that enthusiasm sort of went away. It was sorely missed.

But it was all back with our fans at 12. They were clearly behind the underdog now. When Saavedra came around again quite a bit behind the pack, they all went wild again.

I couldn’t really see it from the back of the train where we were, but Hinch got off to a lousy start. I heard later from an entirely reliable source that he was struggling to get a text sent off to Hinchtown as the green flag came out. I guess we need better WiFi all the way around the circuit.

Not much in 12 during the race. I had a couple of blue flags when Sato & Briscoe came out of the pits right with the leaders, but really not much.

It was painful to see Bourdais go into the tires. I thought he was back in the saddle again after qualifying so very well, and it was a good thing to see. I figured he was just plain stupid until I got a chance to see it later. He’d adjusted the brake bias after his tire change, and I think it was just a simple miscalculation. He guessed wrong, and his brakes didn’t work right at all. After that he just got flustered, frustrated, and did the same damned thing a few laps later. Come on Sébastien, you can do better than this. Don’t let it get to you.

Then Charlie Kimball loses his engine and parks down at One. Look at that. Safety 1 has four water bottles to deal with it, and all we get is one little plastic pail with a bit of water. And I know that it is not funny when that safety crewmember gets locked out of the truck, so I will not giggle about it. It wouldn’t be at all proper. Security is awfully important. We certainly don’t want any uninvited vagrants climbing into the safety truck.

For the most part, it was darned good racing. It goes without saying that I wasn’t too terribly pleased when Hinch got knocked out of the race, but I’m a marshal. I can’t really say all that much about it. But it wasn’t just Hinch. It was him, Newgarden, Sato, Kanaan, Hawksworth and RHR. I’m so disappointed for Sarah Fisher. She’s put so very much into this level of racing, and it was looking so good for her this time around. But I guess that’s racing, and this is “next year” country.

And I can’t really say anything about Dixon & Wilson getting together either. That’s the Steward’s job. Really don’t ask Roger. You’ll get your ears burnt off.

Finally we get some “action” in 12. Debris (probably off Marco’s car) right beside our cutout. Verne Hasset is on response, and he’s right there, ready & with a big window to grab it, just 3 steps away; but we have to hold for permission from Race Control. No permission is forthcoming, and as the field spreads out, our window goes away. Hell; I could have hobbled out & grabbed the thing. It was that close. But no. Safety eventually comes out & they get all the glory. Our crowd gives them the standing ovation that should rightfully have been Verne’s. Life’s just not quite fair, sometimes.

But I’m glad to say Bill Galey got his 15 minutes of fame. Graham Rahal gets turned around right on the apex of the hairpin at 11 with his right front brake on fire. It does take quite a long time, but eventually Race Control lets him out with his water bucket to put that fire out. Can I put in another plea here for water bottles on the corners??

Dixon runs out of gas; Muñoz all over the back of Will Power, and Juan Pablo all over the back of Muñoz; Conway just scoots away. Despite all the stuff in the above paragraphs, it was a great finish. It’s good to see Conway & Ed Carpenter’s team get the win, great to see, Muñoz on the podium; great to see Montoya finish in fourth. And, darn it, I was surprised (and frankly impressed) to see Mr. Power so terribly contrite and apologetic about punting Mr. Pagenaud into the tires. He was almost ready to assess himself a penalty for that, and I have a lot of respect for a driver with that kind of attitude. To my recollection, Mr. Power has not been widely acclaimed for his humility. Perhaps he’s turning a new leaf. Maybe his middle finger is getting a bit worn out . .


That’s the view through the fence at the Long Beach Grand Prix. Still a PWC race to get through, but that gets done without too much trouble. (And this article is already way too long.) Off the track, and off to Fuddruckers for the worker’s cool down lap. And it’s Bill Galey, again, who gives us a ride home. Bill is everywhere!

Doug & Tracey’s Shuttle Service in the morning to LAX, & I’m off in the big silver bird to the Great White North. It’s snowing, of course. And it just keeps on snowing for the rest of the week. It would seem, as well, that my luggage was late for the plane on the way back. So it goes . . .

I don’t think we’re in California anymore, Toto.


Just as an endnote: I always have a great time at Long Beach. It’s just so much fun. And I know that I’ve taken a few tongue in cheek “pokes” at what I’ve referred to above as “management”, but I do hope they take no offence. Long Beach trackworker “management” gets paid diddley-squat, and they work their butts off to make this race possible. Thanks, Long Beach. I hope to see you again next year.

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